Thursday, March 22, 2001

Reading fixture goes up in smoke

Owner unsure whether to rebuild

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        READING — A landmark store three years shy of its centennial anniversary and known for supplying customers with feed, straw, pet food and gardening supplies was destroyed early Wednesday by fire.

        Flames licked at the two-floor Reading Feed Mill at 9359 Reading Road until it was a pile of rubble. A bent metal skeleton was the sole remnant of a silo that had contained corn and grain.

        Longtime residents said the city's northern stretch of Reading Road will never be the same if the owner decides not to rebuild.

[photo] Firemen aim fire hoses at the ruins of Reading Feed Mill Wednesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        The two-story brick building is where farm trucks would line up for almost a mile at harvest time to sell their wheat and grain.

        “It's been there ever since I was a kid,” said Jim Lichtenberg, a trustee of the Reading Historical Society.

        He was leaving church Wednesday morning when he learned that the acrid smell in the air was from the mill fire.

        “It'll make you wonder why it happened after it had been there for so many years,” Mr. Lichtenberg said.

        Owner Stuart Horn said it's too soon to say whether he'll rebuild. He declined to comment further.

        “That building could probably be considered a landmark,” Reading Fire Chief Kevin Kaiser said.

        Flames were shooting 50-70 feet into the sky from the silo at the rear of the building when firefighters arrived shortly before 3:30 a.m., fire officials said.

        Firefighters could not enter the building because of the fire's intensity and the collapsing roof, they said.

        Firefighters needed about two hours to get the flames under control. The building continued to smolder several hours later.

        The cause is not thought to be suspicious, Chief Kaiser said.

        Matthew Geraci, 26, has competed against the Reading Feed Mill for years as owner of Geraci's Lawn & Garden Inc. a few storefronts away.

        As a child, he sold Christmas trees in the mill's lot.

        “I'm bothered that this happened,” he said. “The business has been there for years. It is a piece of Reading history.”

        The store opened in 1904, when fewer than five feed mills were serving the area, Mr. Lichtenberg said.

        It was known as B. Flege & Feed for decades before Mr. Horn bought it in the mid-1970s.

        Frank Flege Jr., 60, of West Chester Township, worked there for some years after he graduated from high school. His father was owner and operator then.

        The place held a lot of memories for him, which is why he hopes Mr. Horn will rebuild.

        Bill Elfers, who served 36 years on City Council before his retirement three years ago, learned of the fire when he headed to a morning volleyball game.

        He remembers when farmers visited the store to get feed for their cattle. Mr. Elfers liked to buy wild bird seed and food for his dogs, Penny and Pebbles, at the store.

        As a city council member, he also heard many complaints about the store's lack of parking, and customers having to park along Reading road.

        “A lot of people are going to find out how valuable it was to all their needs,” he said. “It's been a big asset to the city of Reading for many, many years. I'm going to have to find another place to go to if they don't rebuild.”

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